Budget Time In Tabernacle Township

At the March 11, 2019 township meeting, Rodney Haines, Tabernacle’s Chief Financial Officer, told committee members that the cost of the township’s debt service will drive annual municipal tax increases for the next decade. Haines said that municipal tax increases of approximately 3.8% every year will be required over the next 10 years.

According to Haines, Tabernacle’s 2019 debt service will be almost $1 million; that’s up from approximately $696,000 in 2018. He asked committee members to consider a tax increase of up to 3.8 cents, but not less than two cents for the 2019 budget.

Each one-cent tax increase is the equivalent of approximately $66,500 dollars of revenue. A two-cent tax increase will raise approximately $133,000 dollars of revenue.

Not surprisingly, committee members informally expressed support for a municipal tax increase of two cents. The committee says it will take public comment on the 2019 budget at the March 25, 2019 meeting. The date of the actual budget hearing will be decided at this meeting.

Neither Mr. Haines, nor any committee member, drew the connection between the $133,000 (two cents) gap in the 2019 budget and the committee’s new contract with the Tabernacle Rescue Squad, which lets TRS keep all of the medical billing revenue (aka insurance billing revenue). In 2017, according to the TRS’s most recent Financial Statement, insurance billing revenue was $254,387 dollars.

Other townships capture insurance billing revenues to reduce their local tax burden. Tabernacle, through its new TRS contract, doesn’t capture any. In Tabernacle, taxpayers service all bond payments, including the $4 million dollar bond for the ESB – which is the TRS’s home. The taxpayers also pay to fill all of the revenue gaps.

Mayor Barton justified his vote for the TRS contract by saying that he personally analyzed and evaluated the options. If he actually did an analysis, it would have been important information to have. The analysis should have been presented at a public meeting so that other committee members and private citizens could evaluate the mayor’s thinking.

But Mayor Barton didn’t do any analysis. I submitted an OPRA request for all of the “reports, evaluations, analysis and other information” that Mayor Barton referred to when the committee adopted the new TRS contract. Township Clerk Barber replied to my OPRA by saying: “There are no documents responsive to your request that exist.”

I also asked for “all reports, evaluations, analyses and comparisons” of the costs that were allocated to the TRS and the township under the new use license agreement. Township Clerk Barber provided me with a list of costs covered by the TRS and the Tabernacle Fire Company from 2015 to 2017 plus some supporting invoices.

The list of costs could have been the start of a discussion about costs revenues, surplus and the services provided by the TRS to adjacent townships, which are paid by Tabernacle taxpayers but go beyond ordinary mutual aid.

Unfortunately, the list of costs was never discussed at any public meetings. There was no larger discussion about costs, revenues, surplus, or Tabernacle’s funding of ambulance services to other townships under the guise of “mutual aid.” Instead, committee members met in the back room for three years and emerged to approve a sweetheart contract with the TRS without a coherent explanation of why the contract is in the taxpayers’ interest. The TRS tail continues to wag the Tabernacle Township committee dog.

Based on what CFO Haines said about Tabernacle’s debt service, the committee’s justification for this contract will be wanting every year for the next decade.

In other news, the committee voted to change the township meeting time back to 7:30PM beginning with the March 25, 2019 meeting.